Preventing incidents through process safety

Major accidents or spills are infrequent, but can result in serious harm to people and the environment

Process safety is the application of good design and engineering principles, as well as robust operating and maintenance practices, to avoid accidents. Our approach builds on our experience, including learning from incidents, operations audits, annual risk reviews and sharing lessons learned with our industry peers.

A proactive approach

We undertake process safety reviews to identify hazards, assess risks and define risk reduction measures to prevent accidents from happening. We focus on managing the highest priority risks associated with our operations, targeting our efforts at keeping our products safely within pipes and containers. For example, following a review at our Rotterdam refinery in the Netherlands, we installed high-level alarms that sound when storage tanks are close to exceeding safe operating limits, and automatic cut-out systems to prevent them spilling over.

A learning organization

We analyse performance data and assurance insights to help us understand how well our systems are working, map early trends, and ultimately get a better understanding of our key safety risks. This means we can target our process safety improvement efforts appropriately. For example, when we found that control of work was a contributing factor to process safety near misses in our upstream business, we carried out training sessions in the correct application of safety procedures to seek to address this.
Analysing performance data and learning from incidents are just as important at a local level. Our Merak petrochemicals plant in Indonesia established a formal weekly process in 2013 to investigate incidents, capture learnings and track leading indicators. This regular review has contributed to improvements across a number of leading process safety metrics, helping the plant manage its operations within safe operating and design limits. Operating reliability has also gone up by 14% since 2013.

Our performance

We track the number of process safety events occurring across our upstream facilities and downstream plants. This includes unplanned or uncontrolled releases of materials causing harm to people or the environment, damage to equipment or exceeding threshold quantities. 

We also track loss of primary containment, which includes unplanned or uncontrolled releases of our products from pipes, containers or vehicles within our operational boundary, excluding releases of non-hazardous substances such as water. We seek to record all losses of primary containment regardless of the volume of the release, and to report externally on losses over a certain severity threshold.

We have seen improvements in our process safety performance over the past five years. This has been true across our upstream and downstream businesses, with fewer tier 1 process safety events, fewer leaks and spills and fewer recordable injuries. At the same time, the reliability of our rigs and refineries has improved. We believe this shows that the rigour needed to produce safe operations tends also to produce reliable operations. We will maintain our focus on systematic safety management, including self-verification and testing the effectiveness of our risk mitigation measures.

Process safety events (number of incidents)

Tier 1 process safety events - as defined by the American Petroleum Institute in RP-754 - are losses of primary containment causing harm to a member of the workforce, costly damage to equipment or exceeding defined quantities. Tier 2 events are those of lesser consequence.

Our figures for loss of primary containment in 2014 and 2015 include increased reporting due to the introduction of enhanced automated monitoring for remote sites in our US Lower 48 business. Using a like-for-like approach with prior years’ reporting, our 2015 loss of primary containment figure is 208 (2014 246).


The information on this page forms part of the information reviewed and reported on by Ernst & Young as part of BP's 2015 sustainability reporting. View the full assurance statement.

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